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Interview with Sigmond Bear, May 20, 2005
May 20, 2005
Dr. Sigmond Bear was born and raised in Wilmington. His interest in medicine developed early on and was supported by his family MD, Dr. Wessel. After graduating from NHHS (40) he went to VMI, served time in the Medical Corps and then attended Johns Hopkins for Medical School. After his 1952 graduation he returned to Wilmington as a Board Certified OB/Gyn Specialist and began practice with Dr. William Dosher. His primary interest was on deilvery and also did surgery - at James Walker Hospital and later New Hanover. He retired in 1983 and recalls the many changes in the technology of the field. His memory also includes other MD's, School of Nursing, Bulluck's hospital and Cape Fear Hospital.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Bear, Sigmond Interviewer: Mims, LuAnn / Parnell, Jerry Date of Interview: 5/20/2005 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 60

Mims: Today is May the twentieth , two thousand and five. I am LuAnn Mims with Jerry Parnell for the Randall Library Special Collections. We are continuing our series on Health Services of Southeastern North Carolina and today we are speaking with Dr. Sigmond Bear who was a practicing physician in Wilmington beginning in nineteen fifty two and his specialty was OB/GYN. Good afternoon to you sir. If we could start by asking you some of your personal background. Where were you born and raised?

Bear: Born and raised right here. Actually I was born in Wrightsville Beach in August of nineteen twenty three. In those days our family physician was Dr. Wessel and he came to the home and delivered all of us. I have an older brother and sister…I had. And I was delivered at our beach place at Wrightsville. I went through grade school and high school here.

Mims: What high school?

Bear: New Hanover, which was the only high school in…well, I beg your pardon, we had a colored high school. They were not…they were deseg…they were not desegregated in the thirties. I finished high school in 1940 at New Hanover.

Mims: Um hum.

Bear: And the…we had a family physician, Dr. John Wessel who covered everything for the family. And…

Mims: Now is this the same Dr. Wessel that oversaw the TB sanitarium?

Bear: Yes.

Mims: And I also assume he did the Marine hospital, right?

Bear: Yea, and…

Mims: Um. And he came and did house calls?

Bear: Oh yea. He had an office…he had an office in the Murchison building. He lived at Fifteenth and Market on the northeast corner…pretty sure I’m right there.

Mims: Um hum.

Bear: And he was a fine gentleman. I remember when I decided I wanted to go into medicine, I was still just finishing high school, and my father was perfectly willing only after the two of us would…had sat down and talked to Dr. Wessel.

Mims: Really?

Bear: Yea. And he was that close to the family. He was very important…member.

Mims: What kind of work did your father do?

Bear: He was a wholesale grocer, Samuel BEAR Sr. and Sons.

Mims: So he…

Bear: It’s where the Cotton Exchange is now.

Mims: Right.

Bear: They built that.

Mims: Now is this related to the Isaac BEAR…that…

Bear: Yes, they’re all related.

Mims: …the…the school was named for…

Bear: Yes. Right.

Mims: …and the building on campus?

Bear: Matter of fact I’ve got portraits of all of them in the dining room.

Mims: Really?

Bear: I’ll show ‘em to you.

Mims: That’d be nice.

Bear: Yes, that’s…that’s the family.

Mims: Okay. You mean, like Isaac and Samuel were brothers…

Bear: No. Well, they were. Two Samuels.

Mims: Okay.

Bear: There was one that was a brother of Isaac’s and there was one that was a cousin. And…

Mims: I know you have a long Wilmington history.

Bear: Yes.

Mims: I’ve researched about that a little bit because of the building there on campus…very interesting.

Bear: Right, right.

Mims: So you spoke with Dr. Wessel regarding your interest in medicine…

Bear: Well, yes.

Mims: Did he encourage you?

Bear: Oh yes. And it was…it was…medicine in Wilmington was, I guess, like most southern towns, I don’t know, I’ve never lived in a different one, but…and growing up, of course, we didn’t get around to many of the other towns but…but our hospital, James Walker, was at one time an up to date modern building when it was given to the city by James Walker, and my family gave a contingence for it.

There was a BEAR building which was the contagious building at that time. Things had to be totally separated. As a matter of fact, I remember having scarlet fever, and in those days they tacked a yellow thing on the front porch and people were not permitted in because it was contagious. Whatever was contagious the Health Department handled it this way. Very different from the days that followed with our chemotherapy and antibiotics and all that.

Mims: So if…if your physician made the diagnosis of a contagious disease, would he notify the Health Department and they would come and mark the house, or would he do it himself?

Bear: Well I can’t answer that. I don’t know whether it was personally done, but I think the Health Department played a big role in it, if not a sole role. I really don’t know the mechanics of it. But the buildings were quarantined, the homes were quarantined with contagious…infectious disease.

Mims: Well, it’s interesting because in the days before we had all…shots for some of these, you know, I know it was just rampant…and trying to get it under control.

Bear: Yea.

Mims: I’ve read a little bit about there were actually contagious houses that they would put people in, like measles kind of thing.

Bear: Right. When I’m thinking about childhood diseases, I…tuberculosis…all that sort of stuff was handled in sanatoriums. And as you mentioned, Dr. Wessel had a big part to play locally in that. And that building later became Cape Fear Hospital.

Mims: Right.

Bear: Cape Fear was really Bullocks Hospital, originally on Front Street between Chestnut and Grace…on the west side. And I can remember as a kid, Matt Bullock, the son of the doctor that founded the hospital, and later became a neurosurgeon himself, and I grew up within a block or two of each other. I grew up Fifth and Chestnut and he grew up at Sixth and Market. So we played together a lot. And many Saturdays we’d go down and spend a good bit of time in the hospital. You know, just…his father owned it…we never got in any trouble, but we were able to look and see. And then we had James Walker and then we also had…what was the name of the…

Mims: Community?

Bear: Community Hospital. And…

Mims: Well, let me ask you this, do you think playing around the hospital as a kid…

Bear: Well, I don’t mean playing…

Mims: I know, but I mean, you visited and…

Bear: We’d visit and see the lab and…

Mims: Do you think that peaked your interest in medicine that would have led you into…

Bear: Well, I think the interest was already there.

Mims: Because certainly Matthew Bullock went into medicine as well.

Bear: Yea. We had a neighborhood of…that went into medicine…Walter Lee Crouch…

Mims: Right.

Bear: …was my age, class in high school. We played together all the time. He grew up between Fifth and Sixth on Dock. He became a pediatrician and his older brother became a pediatrician.

Mims: Auley?

Bear: His father was a pediatrician. Matt Bullock. Dr. Bullock’s son, Bert Williams lived down on Third Street…

Mims: Sure.

Bear: And then I had a couple of high school buddies, Allison Alderman lived just a block or two from me, later practiced in Raleigh, but he went into medicine, and there were a number of us in those days.

Mims: That’s curious.

Bear: It’s unusual, I think, for that class. But we grew up together and ended up in medicine. Bert was a little bit older, but the others I mentioned…we all played baseball together or whatever, everyday, I mean, we were together all the time.

Mims: Um, Sam Warshauer was from Wilmington too.

Bear: Yes.

Mims: Was he anywhere near you guys, or was he a little older?

Bear: Yes. He’s…he’s…he’s…he’s older. Sam is old enough, he had finished schooling before I got into…into…for instance, he was long out of high school when I got there. And as you can imagine, you…you don’t know much about what you might plan to do in grade school, but…but you know who your buddies are!

Mims: Sure. (laughing)

Bear: And a lot of them became doctors.

Mims: It’s really interesting. So, after your discussion with Dr. Wessel, did he give you a tract to follow?

Bear: No, no. Dad just wanted to be…dad wanted…wanted his opinion. It was not going to make one bit of difference I don’t think, in my father, and I don’t think Dr. Wessel ever would’ve…I would have never expected him to say “don’t do it”. But it was just the association we had with our family physician that I wanted to point out.

Mims: Right.

Bear: And, no, I went to college and then I was in service for a while as a corpsmen and then when I got out I went to med school at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

Mims: Why did you select Hopkins?

Bear: That’s where I wanted to go.

Mims: Where did you do your undergraduate work?

Bear: At the Virginia Military Institute.

Mims: Really?

Bear: Yea.

Mims: I think the Camerons went there.

Bear: Yea, as a matter of fact, I had an older brother that died, but he and Bruce Cameron roomed together at VMI, same class. And Dan Cameron was three years ahead of me. But we grew up good friends. Our beach cottages were right across the boardwalk from each other and he grew up at Fifth and Meares, I was at Fifth and Chestnut, and so even though Dan was a few years older too, we played together for years. And at VMI, a senior takes a freshman to keep him out of trouble and to teach him…I mean, really, it’s what it amounts to.

Mims: Right.

Bear: And Dan…I was Dan’s dyke. So…but then from there, I…I was able to go to Hopkins and then I was able to remain there for my residency.

Mims: Really?

Bear: Yea. So I was in Baltimore for eight years.

Mims: So you already knew what your specialty interest was when you were…?

Bear: Beg your pardon?

Mims: You already knew what your specialty interest was going to be?

Bear: I don’t think so. I think when you’re in med school, the first two years are pretty general, the basic sciences and a lot of stuff. Then you get into the clinical work, at least at Hopkins, the very tail end of your sophomore year. And your junior and senior year, you rotate through all the specialties.

And of course Hopkins had all of ‘em. And…and I just liked OB/GYN. I liked obstetrics because I thought it was fun, the patients were happy…it was a very pleasant, happy association and outcome as a rule. And then I liked surgery very much. And GYN is surgery. So I thought I had the best of two worlds, and that’s why I chose OB/GYN.

Mims: Um hum. Going back to your service where you were in as a corpsmen…

Bear: I was a corpsman in the medical corps.

Mims: Medical corps.

Bear: Uh huh, when I finished VMI, we didn’t actually get to graduate. We were…I was able to finish my basic requirements for med school by doubling up on courses and going through the summer, which VMI had never done before. But they let some of us do it and then…then I went in service at Fort Meade Maryland, took basic at Fort Eustis Virginia. And then they sent me back to Fort Meade as a corpsman on a surgical ward.

And the war was winding down and I had been accepted at Hopkins while I was still at VMI to start in September. So they let me discharge. They discharged me to go. They were…there was a program, ASTP program they called it, that put boys through medical school…all different types of specialty…as…as a serviceman in uniform. But this had been stopped by the time…by forty four…and that’s when I started med school. So I actually went from Fort Meade straight to Baltimore to med school.

Mims: Um hum. This ASTP, was it an obligation to go back in the military or…?

Bear: No…well…I’m trying to remember what it stands for…Army Specialty Training…

Mims: Program?

Bear: …Program…I think that’s what it was. And it was…they needed corpsmen, they needed trained physicians. They needed all these things, and nobody knew how long this war was gonna last. And so they were preparing for whatever. And this was the Army’s way of getting that…getting that done.

Mims: Um hum. So, you just squeaked into the program, is that what you’re saying, or they cut it…

Bear: I was never in ASTP.

Mims: Okay, alright…they just ended…

Bear: I went into active duty, discharged, and went straight to med school. Matter of fact, I took a bus from Fort Meade Maryland to Hopkins. (laughing) And I took off my uniform and put on a suit. But that was the way it worked. That was 1944.

Mims: Wow.

Bear: September.

Mims: We’ve spoken to a number of area physicians that their medical career was somehow interrupted or their medical education was somehow interrupted and they managed to come back to it.

Bear: Right. And I ended up at the tail end just because of my age and what the war did. So I was…my college was interrupted because I didn’t get to go the full four years, but I did get to complete requirements, the science requirements that I needed and…that was acceptable at Hopkins. And so I was able to go…go straight across.

Mims: Now, when you selected your specialty was the board certification in place at this time?

Bear: Yea. And your board certification is different for different specialties. And…but there’s a certain amount of time required of formal residency in an approved program. And then in OB/GYN it required a few years of active practice before you could take the boards. And there were two parts, it was a written and then some months later, an oral, and that’s the way it worked. And the other specialties are all just a little different. But that’s the way OB/GYN worked in those days.

Mims: I also understand they came into play at different times…like some specialties didn’t have this at first and then they all kind of …

Bear: Well, that’s true, they didn’t all form at the same time. The…and as…as medicine advanced we’ve had boards formed, you know, you’ve got Oncology boards now…that is cancer work. We didn’t have that even in the ‘40s or ‘50s. I can’t tell you what year it started and I shouldn’t have said it wasn’t in the ‘50, but I don’t think it was, but it formed much after general surgery or internal medicine. Geriatrics is a board that wasn’t…that grew out of the…a need, as people…from internal medicine. Cardiology was a spin off. So there are multiple different boards and they…they are…they’re just ways of checking on your ability or your training.

Mims: Um hum. Well, after you completed your program at Hopkins, where did you go from there?

Bear: Came home!

Mims: You did!

Bear: Yea.

Mims: Just…you knew you were always going to come back here?

Bear: Yea, I was coming home.

Mims: Um hum.

Bear: Yea the family is very close and small and not many of us…and daddy was elderly…and I came home in nineteen…when I finished in ‘52, and there was a Dr. William Dosher…you know the Dosher Hospital at Southport?

Mims: Sure.

Bear: Well that was his uncle…or relation, I’m pretty sure it was an uncle as I recall it. Anyway Bill was a Southport native and a board certified OB/GYN and one of our first in town. And he was in practice, he was a bit older than I. And I…invited me in with him. And I…I started practice with Bill.

Mims: But your office was here in Wilmington?

Bear: Yes.

Mims: Where was it?

Bear: Directly behind James Walker Hospital. Eleventh Street. Right next to Charles Graham…between Charles Graham and Joe Knox.

Mims: Hum.

Bear: Joe Knox is a pediatrician.

Mims: Right.

Bear: Charles Graham was a general surgeon. And they were…the building was…there were three buildings in that block, and Dr. Dosher’s building was the middle one.

Mims: Now when you arrived here, you knew you would be practicing at James Walker. Was there a credentialing procedure at that time?

Bear: Very lax, but at least it was familiar. I’d had adequate training and the credentialing was proof of training, of course. And I can remember the…some of the older surgeons, Dr. Koonce and Dr. Hooper coming in and watching me do a procedure…never stayed through it, but they’d come in for short periods. But that wasn’t unusual even after, so I don’t know that they were really checking, or what they were doing…being sociable. But it was a friendly atmosphere and the older men were very nice as far as I was concerned, and had a good number of friends in the older group.

Mims: Well, you’ve mentioned some names that we’ve only seen pictures of because they’ve passed, like Dr. Koonce.

Bear: Yea.

Mims: And doctor…yea, Dr. Koonce is the one…

Parnell: There’s two different…there’s two Koonces.

Mims: One was a surgeon, Donald was the surgeon.

Parnell: Donald.

Bear: Donald Koonce was the surgeon…took my appendix out!

Mims: Really?

Bear: When I was about fourteen. Yea.

Mims: Uh huh. What was he like as a person?

Bear: He’s very nice. Donald was very active in state medical politics. I mean, I don’t mean to sound like…

Mims: No.

Bear: …he was involved with state medicine, not practice, but the other. And very effective. He was a good man. Donald did general surgery and he was a good general surgeon.

Mims: Who else were some of the practicing OB…who else was delivering babies?

Bear: Well, Shug Walker.

Mims: I’ve not heard of him.

Bear: Ah…yea. I think it’s E. T., I’ll have to look that one up…check that one…the initials, but we called him Shug. A very pleasant happy guy and he did OB/GYN. George Johnson was an elder OB/GYN and also very active and very capable. Dr. Jim Lounsbury, he was board certified OB/GYN. A lot of people did OB that were not, you know, they’d been doing it all these years. And they continued to do it sometimes.

Mims: That’s a point I was trying to get to, is…how did you fit in as kind of a new guy, you’ve got, you know, your board certification, you’re walking into an environment where some surgeons are not board certified…how did that work out working with them?

Bear: Well if it was a problem, I never felt it.

Mims: Um hum.

Bear: I wasn’t aware of any resentment…there could have been, but it didn’t show in my direction. I can remember being called in consultation by some of the older men on a number of occasions that ran into something that they wanted some help. And you know, it was…I found it a very pleasant environment.

Mims: We talked to Dr. Bertram Williams and he made the comment that when he came the Medical Society here in town was so small everybody could sit at one table.

Bear: That’s right. And he was not here much before me!

Mims: Right.

Bear: And I was trying to…I asked my wife earlier today…I think there was something like forty odd doctors.

Mims: I think that’s a number he threw up.

Bear: That’s a number I can recall…

Mims: Right.

Bear: …in the phys…in town, and some of those were pretty elderly and not very active.

Mims: Um hum.

Bear: The…for instance, the hospital was structured so that surgery really was a dominant department. There was no GYN department.

Mims: Really?

Bear: I started that.

Mims: So the Marian Sprunt part…

Bear: And I did run into a little resistance there. Nothing ugly, but they…some of the surgeons were opposed to GYN being a specialty. And…but OB and GYN was set up as a specialty after I got here. I started that department. Dr. George Johnson was a good bit older and a very wise good physician, and I remember talking to him about it, and he says he thought it was smart. But he didn’t want to run it, and that’s why…he should’ve…it would’ve been his job, but I did. And…and pediatrics was a department, I think, medicine and surgery. But we had no OB/GYN. I think ear, nose, and throat was part of surgery. It was not separate. GYN was not separate.

Mims: What…what would be…what were the benefits that came from putting it, you know, with OB and GYN?

Bear: Well for one thing it helped us standardized things properly. And I say properly…the way we…with progress. It also helped with nursing because the nursing department…for instance, we had no anesthesia in obstetrics.

Mims: Hum.

Bear: None! And the way they delivered babies was either you did it under local or the floor nurse took a mask and dropped open ether.

Mims: Ah!

Bear: This we were able to correct with the department. And it took time. And I must say that in spite of it being that way things went all right. But we were certainly able to improve on it. And we eventually ended up with anesthesia in OB and we ended up with GYN conferences and this sort of thing. As a department it was very healthy for the…for the specialty.

Mims: So it helps accommodate the needs of the growing, you know, the changes that were coming up specific to that.

Bear: Right, yes. But it…it was important not just for the doctors and nurses but for the patients. Because we were able to make progress and to make changes that were require…were indicated.

Mims: And you’re talking about a lot of changes. I mean going from drop ether to now with the spinal blocks that they use…the epidurals…

Bear: Well, we could do that then.

Mims: Did you?

Bear: Yea, sure, I did plenty of saddles, and spinals, and…

Mims: You did them yourself?

Bear: …pudendals…because I didn’t wanna drop ether! (laughing)

Mims: Which is good!

Bear: But everybody didn’t want that…the patients!

Mims: Really?

Bear: A lot of patients to this day…they don’t want to be knocked out. They want to be awake. A lot of ‘em don’t want to be awake!…now you have to listen to them, I mean, it’s their baby.

Mims: Wasn’t there something in between…I think they call it twilight sleep or something…?

Bear: Yea. This is old scopolamine morphine.

Mims: Okay.

Bear: And Demerol scopolamine. And this is…was used, and what it did was produce amnesia so that they did not recall. It did not keep them from going through everything everybody else goes through with labor. But they just didn’t recall any of it. The scopolamine does that.

Mims: Okay. Because I remember my mother talking about…about that, so… A lot of other changes came on board to as far as, you know, the relationship between the delivering mother and the physician. I mean, certainly today, you know, the mothers have sort of some options as to where to go, was it but back in the ‘50s and ‘60s as well? No.

Bear: We didn’t have any options. We didn’t have facilities to provide options. And…

Mims: No dads in the…

Bear: …for instance…

Mims: …no dads in the delivery room right?

Bear: …um hum…I had been here a while before we ever had a recovery room…

Mims: For OB…

Bear: …for surgery.

Mims: Oh, they went back to the floor?

Bear: Yea, they went back to their bed in the room. This…this…we’re talking about the ‘50s as it existed, not just in Wilmington, you’d find this in a…most small towns. And as a matter of fact, some large institutions. I know of one hospital that was a women’s hospital that the mothers beds went to the delivery room, she labored in a private room, and then when she delivered she went back to a private room, never had to use a stretcher, and it was ideal…a wonderful way to have a baby.

But you can’t think of a more expensive (laughing) situation. And…and at this particular hospital it was fine. They could afford it and the people could afford it. But…but they had specialty nurses to follow them rather than go to a recovery room. And it was…it was an ideal but you just can’t do this for everybody.

Mims: I know like bringing people into the labor room with you, that wasn’t allowed…

Bear: Um um.

Mims: …especially not in the delivery room. Did that happen during the time you were practicing?

Bear: Yes, towards the tail end of my practice. And it…it happened very, very infrequently with my patients. And I don’t know if it was because I discouraged it, or whether or not my particular patients didn’t feel like they wanted it. I can’t answer that. But it became far more standard procedure after…I retired in 1983.

Mims: Also, the use of noninvasive, like technology, like the ultrasounds…did that come into play early in your practice?

Bear: Yea, we…we had ultrasound, but not the sophisticated ultrasound that we know today. As a matter of fact, ultrasound has been around for a long time and was used for muscle discomfort.

Mims: Really?

Bear: Yea. There was…Dr. Charles Graham had an ultrasound machine in his office and with what our grandparents called sciatica, the sacral discomfort, back discomfort, and it can be very helpful. But this didn’t photograph, this didn’t produce pictures. This was just the ultrasound.

Parnell: And they’d hold it to the spot.

Bear: Yea. But we didn’t have CAT scans. We didn’t’ have MRI. X-ray was far more primitive, even in the seventies and eighties than it is today…a tremendous progress in those specialties! And Invasive Radiology, of course, didn’t even exist until more recent years. We have all that in Wilmington today…

Mims: Sure.

Bear: …which I think is just absolutely remarkable! Because we are really a small town when it comes to sophisticated forms of medicine, but we have got it, and we should be very thankful for it.

Mims: Another thing that I’ve talked to some of the physicians, you know, that…the general public just does not realize the machinery that’s at that hospital and the …the like, infrastructure that’s in place. Should anything big happen, you assume that it’s there and it is there, and it’s because of people pushing…

Bear: But you’ve also got the trained physicians that know what to do with it.

Mims: Exactly.

Bear: And you can have all the equipment in the world, if you don’t have a guy who knows what to do with it, you haven’t got much. But we’ve got some fantastically capable cardiac surgeons. Here we are, the little town of Wilmington, and we’ve got cardiac surgeons. I just had a mitral valve replaced sixty days ago. I didn’t have to go to Timbuktu. And the surgeon couldn’t have done a better job…never had a degree of fever, everything just went fine. But…but these are things that we…the younger individual exposed to a need for medicine today, would assume that it’s always been here, or that everybody has it, and they don’t.

Mims: Well, this is part of what our project is, is to help show the legacy that doctors have given, you know, in the development of medicine, and also the leadership they provided for the community in doing this…

Bear: Right. For instance, we didn’t have trained oncologists. If you had cancer, you know, you had to go to Duke or somewhere if you really wanted ultimate treatment. And we do that now. We’ve got excellent oncologists right here in town. You know, well trained, capable men.

Mims: Now, let’s go back to your practice for a minute. The doctor that you came in with, Dr. Dosher, he retired after a certain number of years and then the practice became your own?

Bear: Well, yes. And I had a partner too, over time, but I still ended up alone.

Mims: Okay. The idea to partner with your specialty would be to give some relief for like, on call?

Bear: Yes, and actually the majority of physicians, when I came to town, were in solo practice. This idea of group practice developed after I got here. Not soon after…not too long after…there was a tendency to it. In OB/GYN, for instance, Shug Walker’s brother-in-law came in with him, Nelson O’Quinn…

Mims: Oh, okay.

Bear: …and…and they were a nice pair. And George Johnson loved to fish on Sundays. He fished almost every Sunday. He’d go to Southport and he had a standard…I can’t remember the name of the guy that…fishing boat down there, one of the party boats…and so on Sundays I covered for George. And we weren’t in practice together. But if any patients went in labor, and there probably were because he was very busy, I would take care of them and report to him when he got back that night. It was a friendly atmosphere.

Mims: Um hum.

Bear: And his patients obviously were told I was gonna do it, cause none of ‘em ever fussed about it to me.

Mims: Um hum.

Bear: But…and I had coverage this way. Some of Nelson’s partners…they ended up without about four guys, and so you were able to get coverage, even by yourself.

Mims: And that’s one of the things about being a baby doctor, is the babies aren’t scheduled, so…and we’re talking…

Bear: But in surgery, there’s nothing scheduled in medicine! OB is very obvious, but you can’t tell when you’re gonna have a gallbladder attack. You don’t know when your appendix is gonna act up or your gonna have a gastric ulcer bleed. I mean, there is no…no schedule to medicine!

Mims: We’re talking in a day in time when on-call meant you needed to be near a phone, right?

Bear: Absolutely.

Mims: There were no pagers, no cell phones…

Bear: No.

Mims: So how did you handle that?

Bear: Stayed by the phone. Really.

Mims: Really?

Bear: On my weekends on-call I was either in the hospital or I was at home. Some time, and I can’t tell you when it was, they started putting telephones in automobiles, and the thing took up most of the trunk.

Mims: Right, the bag phones that came…

Bear: No, no, no, way before that.

Mims: Really?

Bear: This thing looked like a suitcase and it went in the trunk and it would…it was a party line…I mean, everybody could hear everything. And…and I did put one in the car. And the main reason I did this was because we stayed at the beach in the summer and it wouldn’t be at all unusual for me to come home at six or seven o’clock at night for dinner and have my wife standing on the back porch and say “turn around and go back.”

And they’d called and, of course they couldn’t reach me, I didn’t have a phone in the car…anyway…they had to call home. So I did do that. So I had one of the first phones, but it was nothing compared to what you know today. And as you say, no pagers. And…but we also…I do not recall an answering service. I don’t remember anybody, any physician, now I could be that I just don’t know if there were some, but I’m not aware of any physicians that used an answering service. They had coverage. Another physician would cover or they’d be available.

Mims: How much interplay in this did insurance come into effect? Like the partnering…I mean, I can’t picture this today…like if you delivered somebody else’s baby, who would get the bill, and this kind of stuff, I mean…

Bear: Well, first of all, insurance was a very minor part of pay scale. As I recall and I…I can be corrected on this. I think a private room at James Walker was ten dollars a day. It may have been eight. The nursery was just a couple of dollars a day. Deliveries were anywhere from fifty to a hundred dollars. And that was for nine months service. That was your…you know, and postpartum. It was not…and insurance paid very little portion of it. A lot of people didn’t have insurance, didn’t need insurance…was not that expensive an item. And so I never was paid for the physician…for the service I gave another position, if that’s what you’re driving at.

Mims: Well I was just trying to figure out, you know, it’s so complex now…what you’re talking about…it seems so…

Bear: The patient knew from both…as far as I was concerned…that I was not her physician. I was taking care of her for so-and-so and her obligation was to him. And it was…it was very simple, open, environment.

Mims: Right.

Parnell: So you’re talking about over a nine months period

Bear: No…

Parnell: No I mean, someone got their bill of a hundred twenty five…a hundred fifty dollars…

Bear: That would’ve been high.

Parnell: Yea. But did they pay it a couple dollars a week, or…?

Bear: Some of ‘em did. Some of ‘em paid just a few dollars a week, and some of ‘em paid when they got through, some didn’t pay at all. And…now I can tell you what was fun…and particularly in OB…OB was fun, OB was not work…had terrible hours and very confining and time consuming, but you got to know your patient’s so well and you know, I’d go home with layer cakes all the time. When deer were in season, I’d get a leg of venison, this sort of thing.

Matter of fact, lady arrived one day in my office with a puppy…a little cocker spaniel and my neighbor at that time…still my neighbor, they moved from South Live Oak over next door here…and I remember taking that…told the lady, “I can’t have a puppy, I’ve got two at home already.” And she said, “Well I want you to have it.” So I took it over to their son and it was a beautiful little puppy for years. But this…this was the way it worked. It was a very friendly and I never thought about anybody suing anybody. And this never entered my mind.

Matter fact, in residency, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, big city, tremendous institution, when I went on service in GYN, they took six interns a year, and out of that six they kept two the second year and out of those two they kept one to finish the residency…so you were pushed, you were working awfully hard, because you were doing hundreds of deliveries and surgery. But I remember the professor, the first day we came in, saying “Don’t want you to have any life…any liability insurance. Don’t you take out any insurance. Hospital will cover whatever is needed, we’ve never been sued. But if you have a policy, somebody’s gonna want…gonna want it to pay off.” And that was the attitude.

Mims: Oh yea…right.

Bear: Even in a big city. So it was, you know, this town was very simple. And…and liability insurance, I think, was…my coverage was something like a hundred, a hundred and a quarter a year premium, and it was very adequate coverage. I never needed it, thank God, but it was inexpensive. Today’s it’s a hundred thousand dollars.

Mims: Well it’s…it’s causing people to not deliver babies. I know that there’s…

Bear: Causing people not to go into OB/GYN.

Mims: Right. And if they’re in the practice, they’re phasing that part out because of the high liability.

Bear: Absolutely. But…but thinking in today’s terms, you can’t conceive of what it was like then because it was nothing like it is now. And I don’t know when all this…I do know when it started, I can’t put a year on it, but it was relatively near my end of practice in ‘83.

Mims: Like when the HMO’s became so popularized?

Bear: Yea. Um hum.

Mims: And you had dedicated doctors who…

Bear: But medical liability insurance was very inexpensive. Doctors just didn’t get sued. Patients were good friends.

Mims: Well…we know that James Walker was a segregated hospital and that many African American women delivered their babies at James Walker. Were any…did you deal with that at all?

Bear: Oh yea. I delivered…

Mims: Well, so, were there two delivery rooms?

Bear: Yea.

Mims: Really?

Bear: Um hum. Two different buildings.

Mims: Was there…right. So was their delivery in the colored ward too, or was it in…

Bear: Yes. Um hum. The delivery rooms were in the colored building and…

Mims: They said there was a whole other team of nurses you had to deal with then right?

Bear: Well, there were nurses, of course, that were assigned to each floor.

Mims: Right.

Bear: And most of ‘em pretty well worked those floors regularly. Surgery was all done in one operating…operating area. We had…seems to me there were four operating rooms. May be mistaken, but…

Mims: On…on the third floor or something like that…

Bear: Yes.

Mims: Okay.

Bear: I think there were four…could have been three. I think there were four. All surgery was done…major surgery was done there. But deliveries were done in the colored ward or in the white…

Mims: Um hum. Cause we…we haven’t been able to talk to anybody definitively about the colored ward. We know that they…it had everything in there…that they put everybody in there. Did they separate the…the OB part at all or…?

Bear: Well, they had…I’m trying to remember now, cause it’s been a long time.

Mims: Sure has!

Parnell: It’s been a long time!

Bear: Seems to me there were two or three private rooms as you went in the building on the left hand side. And then there was a ward. And I personally did…I…I took care of any colored patient that came to me. And…and I had a lot of colored patients as well as whites. I did have segregated waiting rooms.

Mims: You did?

Bear: Dr. Dosher built the building that way. When I left that building and moved over here and built my own building, I did not have segregated waiting rooms. I built it as one waiting area. And I never had a problem. I never had anybody complain about it.

Mims: Now this was when New Hanover was built?

Bear: Well, New Hanover was open, I left the building that had been Dosher’s that I had practiced in and I built…and Dr. Dosher was retired by then…and I built a building that is the present oncology building for Hanover Medical, on the corner there…1415. I built that as my practice, and I had one waiting room and no separate examining rooms or anything else. This was never an issue as far as I was concerned.

Mims: Did you ever to go Community to deliver babies or…?

Bear: Beg your pardon?

Mims: Did you ever go to the Community Hospital to deliver?

Bear: Only in consultation. And I didn’t go to Burgaw for the same reason. I didn’t have time.

Mims: Sure.

Bear: I could not be in two or three places at one time. Some of the men went to Burgaw. I went up there on a few occasions in consultation when there was a problem and I was called. And the same thing at Community.

Parnell: When you first came to town, Bullocks was still open, wasn’t it?

Bear: Bullock was still in business.

Parnell: Did you ever go to Bullocks to…?

Bear: No I didn’t. Never had a patient at Bullocks, sure didn’t. And Dr. Sinclair, good friend, and of course Dr. Bullock I knew real well, of course he had died by that…time I came on. Shug Walker practiced there a long time. Heber Johnson practiced there. And I knew them well and got along well with ‘em, but I just…I just found that I couldn’t handle both…two places. And I didn’t try.

Parnell: You moved out here in ‘67 or so when the hospital opened, right?

Bear: Yes.

Parnell: And you stayed in that office.

Bear: Yes. I left…left from over there and came over here whatever year it was the hospital opened.

Parnell: Sixty seven.

Bear: I think it was in June or May.

Parnell: Right, June of sixty seven.

Bear: And my building was finished by then and I moved right in.

Mims: This is what we’re finding out…it seemed like when they developed the hospital the doctors started buying property over there and built…sure…cause nobody left…stayed over by James Walker.

Bear: Hardly any. Walter and Auley Crouch kept the office of pediatricians. I’m trying to remember if Charles Graham…I can’t remember if he moved over or not. But most everybody did. You know, when you’ve got a schedule of appointments and then you get called to the hospital, which happens, and then you have to drive thirty minutes as compared to two minutes…

Mims: Sure.

Bear: …it’s just…it didn’t make any sense to drive across town.

Mims: What did you think about building a new hospital? Were you on…

Bear: Oh, I thought it was great.

Mims: Did you talk with anybody about having…how to develop your specialty area?

Bear: They…they actually formed committees and the OB/GYN Department had a voice and we met and other departments did too.

Mims: Sure.

Bear: We met over what we would like to have and what we felt would be desirable. And I remember one of the things that we didn’t like was they put the nursery on the GYN floor. And OB was on the third floor. I may be confused here, but I think something like that.

Mims: Yea.

Bear: But we had a voice in it. And I think they tried their best to…

Mims: Accommodate.

Bear: …to accommodate.

Mims: We’re finding that across the board, that they did try to incorporate doctor’s opinions in developing this.

Bear: Yes, right, they did. We had many meet…OB/GYN meetings over the plans.

Mims: Um hum. Were you involved with the move at all?

Bear: No.

Mims: We keep hearing how the…

Bear: You mean the physical move?

Mims: Yea. No, I mean, I meant to ask this question like, did you have anybody laboring at James Walker that had to be moved?

Bear: No I did not. I did not have…I did not have that problem. The only thing I can remember is…and this is from patients. I…I was actually away, I was marlin fishing when the move took place. I had taken off that week and I…I usually marlin fish Hatteras that week. And that was the week they moved. And I thought it was perfect timing, but when I got back and…instead of going to James Walker, walked into New Hanover, my patients had found out that their nursery bills had gone from something like three dollars to thirty three dollars. I don’t know what it was, I’m making up numbers, but it was a lot for those days, a big change.

And the same thing with their rooms. And they weren’t real happy about that. Insurance, even then, was pretty limited for things like OB. You know there’s…matter of fact, I don’t know if you remember this…you may not even know it. There were A, B, C, D, and F plans or something like that with Blue Cross and Blue Shield which was still dominant in those days. And I don’t remember which did what, but one was far more expensive premium than the other and covered far better than the other. And you could get very minimum insurance or you could get much better insurance all in the Blue Cross. And they were…and they were alphabetized.

Mims: Um hum.

Bear: But there was a sticker shock with the patients. And they had to be. James Walker was a primitive…was a pretty primitive building. You may not have been told this but the main part of the building…old center section…the wing that was used mainly for everything, was built as a temporary building during World War II because of the shipyard or something. They built this thing, and they built that addition, which I think has been torn down.

Mims: Yes.

Bear: But that was where the main bulk of the work was done.

Mims: Really?

Bear: And that’s where the rooms were. All that stuff. Operating rooms, labor rooms…

Mims: Right.

Bear: …pathology, lab, lobby…all was in this…they originally built as a temporary building. And so they later put brick veneer on it and kept it.

Mims: Uh huh.

Bear: So, it was pretty primitive. It served us well. But it was…the new hospital…New Hanover was…was obviously looking…even looking back, was smart…

Mims: Sure.

Bear: …to have done. In hindsight, there was good foresight there.

Mims: To have…for the addition to accommodate…

Bear: And we had some people…Bob Fales was very instrumental in getting that work done. And we’re indebted to him for it.

Mims: Well, we have talked to a couple of the student nurses that came through the James Walker program in the late sixties, and they recall integration primarily with the obstetrical patients. Do you recall that at all…that they started…?

Bear: You mean in the new hospital?

Mims: …at James Walker before they…before New Hanover opened. They thought it would maybe be around like ‘65 or ‘66.

Bear: I don’t remember that.

Mims: You don’t recall that?

Bear: I…I only remember that the…the colored ward…

Mims: Right.

Bear: …and I don’t remember it being moved into the main building which was the temporary building. I…I don’t recall that. I don’t deny it, I just don’t recall it.

Mims: Well they just recall a couple of them, so…

Bear: I don’t remember that. Obviously it was all integrated when we moved…

Mims: Right…

Bear: And I think that’s when Community was closed…

Mims: Yes, they both closed at the same time.

Bear: …and became one hospital. And it was never a problem.

Mims: Did you ever do anything with the student nurses as far as lecturing?

Bear: Taught.

Mims: You did teach!

Bear: Yea, I taught OB and GYN classes one or two days…afternoons a week, I’ve forgotten what.

Mims: Was that in the residence home?

Bear: James Walker.

Mims: At the nurses home? At the…

Bear: Yes. And that was at James Walker. When we came over here they started the AHEC program..

Mims: Yes.

Bear: And this was…they hired full time people and…we all taught at the operating table or in the delivery room as we were working, if there were student nurses there. But that isn’t what you mean. You’re talking about classes.

Parnell: Classroom.

Mims: Yes.

Bear: And…and…AHEC pretty well took over that.

Mims: Um hum. But at the old James Walker, their school of nursing, you did do instruction for…for the nurses.

Bear: Yea.

Mims: They keep saying that doctors taught them, but we…we’ve never found a doctor that will own up to it.

Bear: Well, I taught OB.

Mims: Well, we are wrapping up here, we’re about to run out of time, I think we’ve got just a minute or so. Can you speak quickly on any of the large number of changes in your specialty. Anything really sticks out in your mind?

Bear: Oh my goodness, there’s been dramatic changes. Unbelievable changes.

Mims: Um hum. Think it’s gotten better or worse?

Bear: Oh, it’s much better.

Mims: Better, even with the lia…high liability, and…

Bear: Oh, I thought you meant the…the end product.

Mims: Well just…yea…oh the product yea, so just weighing it all…

Bear: No, it’s an unfriendly atmosphere as compared to what I was just describing. You can’t imagine a more friendly atmosphere than practicing OB. I had the best of all worlds. It was just wonderful! Your patients were friends and I still get a fix…I can go to the grocery store and get a hug. I mean, this is the good thing about OB. GYN patients, a little bit, but OB is different. But it’s now a defensive specialty.

And I gave up OB ten years before I retired as much as I liked OB because the atmosphere was getting hostile and I…I wasn’t comfortable. So the last ten years of practice I didn’t do OB. And I…I didn’t want to do that. But it was an unpleasant…it was a hostile…it was obvious. And lightening was striking all around me and I knew it’d hit me eventually.

Mims: Yea.

Bear: You can’t do everything to suit everybody and you don’t really have to make a mistake to get sued. It can just appear that they’re not happy with the end result.

Mims: Right.

Bear: Because there can mistakes too. But…

Mims: But you were here at the right time for it to be the nice friendly atmosphere.

Bear: Oh, absolutely.

Mims: With the baby doctor…the perception of the baby doctor.

Bear: Yes.

Mims: Well, we do want to thank you for helping us with this today.

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